By Alex Klein
I write a blog (and even books) about ISBU (Shipping Container) Home construction.
The blog is titled: The Life and Times of a Renaissance Ronin
It takes readers from wishing and dreaming about alternative, affordable, sustainable homes, to actually building them, all by themselves…
(Okay ALMOST by themselves.)
We help them. A LOT. Sometimes it includes financial support, too. We barter, beg, borrow, and scour thru junk piles looking for materials to recycle, re-purpose or reuse.
Why would anyone do this?
Well, the economy is crushing us. A LOT of families are looking for alternatives to big mortgages and trying to provide a hedge against “the evils of the times”… things like unemployment and foreclosures.
For example; we currently have (4) families that began building only to find that midway through the process, their plants were shut down or their jobs were “right-sized”. As in… their jobs vanished into thin air or moved to Malaysia or Mumbai.
No warning, no “Thank you for your years of dedication”… nada.
There’s nothing “right” about that. At least not in my book.
My book; “Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings” was written to help families in need. It’s really where the money goes. The book (and the blog) are about helping families build personal freedom, by freeing themselves of things like mortgages and killer utility bills. My family lives pretty close to the ground, but we work with families daily that are “close to the street”. So those book sales, $9.95 at a time, buy things they need to keep building. There are things that you just can’t borrow or barter for.
And every family we wrap in Corten Steel is that much stronger and sustained. And WE are that much stronger for it.
People ask me daily about ISBUs, so here’s the “Thirty Second ISBU Primer”:
I’m often asked if you can REALLY live inside a steel shipping container.
Any box needs to be insulated if you’re going to live inside it. The house that you live in now is probably just a box made of wood. Your house would heat up if it wasn’t insulated properly. And ISBUs (Steel Boxes) are especially prone to heat build up. After all, your oven at home is just a steel box with a heating element (just like the sun) attached to it, right? So insulation is a must.
Is there an easy way to accomplish that? Did NASA solve the insulation problem, once and for all? NO.
Contrary to “myth and urban legend”, there is NO Miracle Ceramic Paint that “works just like insulation”. If there was, I’d be using it daily.
(And yes, I know all about Supertherm.)
I’ve been building ISBU (Shipping Container Homes) since 1977. I’m on my 141st (actual build) as I type this. In America. We have more, “out there.”
Everyone in the business knows ME. Ask around.
Basic ISBU rules;
* You CANNOT bury a container!
You cannot just pile dirt on top of it, either. If you do, it’s called a coffin. That corrugated steel is just to keep weather and bugs out. It doesn’t have the strength required to take that kind of load.
* The insulation goes on the OUTSIDE of the container, unless you’re nuts.
That’s right, I said it. Think about it. WHY make a small place even smaller? Even if you connect ISBUs together to form larger rooms, why rob yourself of living space?
* Use SPF (Spray Foam Insulation) on the outside of the box.
… and then cover it with siding, hardiplank, veneers, bricks, whatever you can find. You’ll thank me later.
SPF Provides insulation, a vapor barrier and a moisture barrier too.
SPF is an acoustic barrier too. Nothing is worse than having to listen to the neighbor’s loud music, or an endless stream of traffic, trains and aircraft.
PLUS, SPF glues everything together stronger than duct tape. THAT helps with shear forces and lateral loads. Shearing and racking for those of you who know about construction.
* OVERINSULATE. Again… you’ll thank me later.
The energy you save will be your own.
* Don’t cantilever or “twist-stack” containers.
ALL the strength in an ISBU is in the end frames – not the side rails. You’ll create point loading disasters. Disasters cost money to fix. Sometimes they cost a LOT of money to fix.
Oh yeah, I know that some of us grew up in the seventies listening to loud music at concerts, (so we’re probably already deaf) but…
* Cutting on shipping containers with metal circular saws or a sawzall is just madness.
Go get a hammer.
Now, go get your piggybank.
Now smash the piggy till his/her guts fall out, collect the shiniest parts, and then go rent a plasma cutter from your local home improvement store., Not only is it much, much faster, it’s going to do a better job.
(And it’s ‘seriously fun’!)
Trying to build a shipping container home using a metal circular saw or a sawzall is done by people who don’t know any better.
* Can you combine ISBUs with other types of alternative home construction?
* Can this be done “affordably?”
Is $50 a square foot “affordable?” That’s typical of what people are paying to build small ISBU homes in the USA, all by their “onesies”.
On my blog we’re talking about a project proposal for Haitian families that suggests that (1) 40′ ISBU shipping container be placed in the center of a building site and then a family could live in it and “build off of it” as time and materials allowed.
Replace those “materials” with earthbags and plaster and you’ve just built a ‘massive’ home with your own hands for pennies on the dollar. Dirt and poly bags aren’t that expensive. In fact, I bet you have dirt in your yard… right?
Wanna know more? Stay in touch, read the blog, or even buy the book.
If you buy the book, you’ll help families in need. Karma is a good thing.
If you feel inclined, we also have a donation button on the Renaissance Ronin blog site that allows readers to help families build homes. Every dollar helps tremendously.
And stay tuned because Steve and I are going to turn a 20′ High Cube Shipping Container into a Photovoltaic powered LED Greenhouse. I’m talking a secure, weatherized, protected (from everything but the kitchen sink) “Food Factory” in your backyard.
It’s going to be cool! I’m talking “I have to have one of those” cool!
aka: The Renaissance Ronin